Visual Evidence: 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013

Posted in Visual Evidence on December 31st, 2013 by JJ Koczan

First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.

As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.

The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:

Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire


Cover by Nick Keller. Artist website here.

Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire (review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.

Blaak Heat Shujaa,The Edge of an Era


Cover by Arrache-toi un oeil. Artist website here.

The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era (review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.

Black Pyramid, Adversarial


Cover by Eli Wood.

I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial (review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.

Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning


Cover by Samantha Allen. Artist website here.

It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morning was such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.

Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting


Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.

In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul — gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.

Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart


Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart (review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.

Monster Magnet, Last Patrol


Cover by John Sumrow. Artist website here.

Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol (review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.

Red Fang, Whales and Leeches


Cover by Orion Landau. Artist website here.

There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013’s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for RelapseLandau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.

Sandrider, Godhead


Cover by Jesse Roberts. Band Facebook here.

Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist Jesse Roberts (see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.

Summoner, Atlantian


Cover by Alyssa Maucere. Artist website here.

When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.

As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.

If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart: Climbing Vines

Posted in Reviews on August 19th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

With his third Larman Clamor full-length in as many years, Hamburg-based singer-songwriters Alexander von Wieding continues the development of his established swampadelic blues aesthetic. Alligator Heart, which is von Wieding‘s second outing through Small Stone, is a somewhat rawer affair than last year’s Frogs (review here) or 2011’s Altars to Turn Blood (review here), but in stripping down some of the arrangements — less organ, more banjo — the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has lost nothing of the rich mood of his prior outings, and indeed only given his songwriting and instrumental performances more space to flourish. Aiding in that as well is the fact that at over 38 minutes, Alligator Heart is the longest Larman Clamor album to date, and though the craft and construction has simplified in some ways, it’s also become more conceptually complex, as the two-part “Aether Bound I: Scorched Earth” and “Aether Bound II: Dust and Ghost” closing duo shows. Offset by catchier songs like “Banshee w’Me” and the grooving “I’m Buildin’ Ruins,” these ideas seem all the more engaging, particularly as they come accompanied by growth in von Wieding‘s vocal approach, which even on the five-minute East-meets-South stomper “She Sent Her Hounds” seems to have embraced more emotional complexity and seems to be in the process of growing beyond the guttural bluesman’s exclamations that have typified Larman Clamor‘s singing to date. As ever, the recording is overarchingly organic, giving a live-from-the-porch vibe — one can almost see the holes in the screen door — and gorgeous visuals also care of von Wieding also accompany, only adding to the completeness of the Alligator Heart package.

Because it has such a cohesive sound throughout, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the complexities in the individual pieces that occur throughout Alligator Heart, but the otherworldly feel that runs a thread (also threat) through each track has been these last several years a big part of what ties Larman Clamor‘s albums together, and the sense from the acoustic-led “Alligator Heart” on is exploratory. Von Wieding strums and feels out the parts after some subdued verses atop a rising bed of distortion, showing a bit of patience in the instrumental second half of the opener while letting “Banshee w’Me” pick up the tempo and provide the first of several landmark hooks that carve a path through the fog-coated bayouscape of Alligator Heart. The only thing missing is handclaps, but one should remember that von Wieding is working with a simpler palette this time around, so some of the flourish that prior albums may have led listeners to expect is replaced by a focus on the hooks themselves. “Banshee w’Me” is all ramble and brash groove, lead lines peppered in with tambourine meter, and leaves a lasting impression that its 1:25 runtime does little to hint at. “Perdition at Dawn” plugs in tight strumming and more blown-out singing with a strong build behind as snare hits come in to punctuate the march. Here, von Wieding sounds confident plucking acoustic notes that if they were played on a sitar you’d call them psychedelic, but it’s ultimately his vocals that carry the piece, and in that too, he’s in top form. His voice sounds less like something put on for the purpose of the tracks than something harnessed in response to a call from them. It’s a bigger difference than you might initially think.

Read more »

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Larman Clamor Post First Single from Alligator Heart

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 11th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

The Hamburg-based solo act of graphic designer Alexander von Wieding, Larman Clamor is set to release its third album, Alligator Heart, through Small Stone on Sept. 10. I was all set to post the bio I wrote for the album with the new single “Banshee w’Me,” but then realized I’d already posted it, so in the name of staving off redundancy, I’ll spare you this time around.

Alligator Heart follows last year’s Small Stone debut, Frogs (review here), and finds von Wieding with a more stripped down approach, his swamp-blues psychedelia emerging less from a kitchen-sink barrage of varying elements than from a consistent, steady run of banjo, guitar, foot-stomp percussion and his own gravely vocals. One as ever for brevity, “Banshee w’Me” is quick to make the point of a burgeoning fascination with pop hooks in Larman Clamor‘s songwriting, and in that, a fitting summary of the stylistic growth von Wieding has undertaken with this latest batch of songs.

More on the record to come, but enjoy the single until then:

Larman Clamor, “Banshee w’Me” from Alligator Heart

Larman Clamor on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records

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Here’s a Bio I Wrote for Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart; Album Coming Sept. 10

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 13th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

German purveyor of swamp-psych-blues Larman Clamor — aka Alexander von Wieding — has announced a Sept. 10 release for its fourth full-length, Alligator Heart. Like last year’s Frogs (review here), it’ll be released by Small Stone, and today the tracklisting and cover art were officially unveiled, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced listen to write the bio to go with the album.

Here’s that bio — in blue even though I wrote it — plus the cover, of course by von Wieding himself, and the tracklisting:

Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart bio

Larman Clamor is throwing a carnival. More of a street fair, really. You’ll find the sky is tinted a greenish yellow watercolor, the air is tepid and wet with humidity, bugs come in swarms, and later, a parade of children on the backs of reptiles will come out of the swamp and march down the crossroad.

Welcome to Alligator Heart.

The third Larman Clamor full-length, Alligator Heart follows on the heels of 2012’s Frogs, 2011’s Altars to Turn Blood and that same year’s debut self-titled EP. It is the most accomplished release to date from the solo-project of Alexander von Wieding – also illustrator for Karma to Burn, Wo Fat, Monster Magnet, Freedom Hawk, Infernal Overdrive and countless others – and like its predecessors, it masterfully captures a swamp-boogie atmosphere, updating blues and rock traditions with a down-home psychedelia that’s alternately creeping and malevolent and raising its hands in upbeat testimony. Based in Hamburg and begun in 2008, Larman Clamor pays a heavy debt to Delta blues (John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred MacDowell), but has never sounded so much like itself as on Alligator Heart.

Where Frogs reveled in its post-Tom Waits weirdness and von Wieding’s gravelly vocals, Alligator Heart strips away some of the extras to get at Larman Clamor’s muddy, folkish heart. Short ditties like “Banshee w’Me,” “Done No Good” and “I’m Buildin’ Ruins” stomp and clang as ever, but with surprisingly ripe hooks, and atmospheric pieces like “Sambucus Nigra” and the 16 Horsepower-style banjo echo of “Crow on a Wagon Wheel” show a side of Larman Clamor that’s able to make a case as much with minimalism as with an onslaught of varied elements. Rounding out with “Aether Bound I – Scorched Earth” and “Aether Bound II – Dust & Ghost,” Alligator Heart ultimately shows  von Wieding’s most accomplished songwriting to date, and that as he pushes further away from the shore to get swept up in that river’s current, the results are all the more rewarding.

Blending acoustic and electric guitar, simple drums and throaty vocals, Larman Clamor presents an alternate view of tradition and a new take on its own approach. More and more, there’s nothing else that sounds quite like it.

So while you wait on the corner of that crossroad for the parade to go by, just make sure you keep a count of all your fingers. Alligator Heart has a bite with some mean teeth.

Tracklisting:
1. Alligator Heart
2. Banshee W’Me
3. Perdition At Dawn
4. Done No Good
5. Vines Of Yggdrasil
6. Been Cookin’
7. Sambucus Nigra
8. She Sent Her Hounds
9. I’m Buildin’ Ruins
10. Crow On A Wagon Wheel
11. Aether Bound I – Scorched Earth
12. Aether Bound II – Dust & Ghost

Larman Clamor on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records

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